Vacancy to Vitality in Pittsburgh's East End

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Vacancy to Vitality in Pittsburgh’s East End Penn Avenue Arts Initiative

Friendship Development Associates and Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

CA S E S T U DY O F C U LT U R E I N C O M M U N I T Y D E V E LO P M E N T By Christopher Walker, LISC and Rachel Engh, Metris Arts Consulting

Commissioned by

LISC | 1

In the late 1990s, Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh suffered the kind of dereliction that afflicts many Rust Belt commercial corridors: vacant and boarded up storefronts, dangerous levels of crime. In 2017, Penn Avenue offers a different kind of experience.

In the late 1990s, Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh suffered the kind of dereliction that afflicts many Rust Belt commercial corridors: vacant and boarded up storefronts, dangerous levels of crime. In 2017, Penn Avenue offers a different kind of experience. Little Angels Learning Academy provides daycare, and Aahmani Afrikan Braids offers hair care. Most Wanted Fine Arts is “a community service organization disguised as an art gallery.”1 People’s Indian Restaurant is open for lunch and dinner, and Assemble hosts classes, summer camps, birthday parties, and more for learners of all ages interested in arts and technology. These and other businesses along the 12-block strip signal the emergence of a vital and economically diverse commercial corridor.

Beginning in 1998, the Penn Avenue Arts Initiative (PAAI) initiated an arts-led strategy for revitalization of the street. Mural by Jordan Monahan and Chris St. Pierre on the side of the Pittsburgh Glass Center. Photo by Metris Arts Consulting

Under the direction of a full-time artist-organizer, the PAAI attracted artists and arts organizations to the district by actively marketing mixed-use spaces and creating custom packages of property purchase and rehabilitation subsidies to give an ownership stake. Black artists have begun to move onto the corridor, and many of the arts and cultural organizations have worked hard to reach out to area youth to learn artistic skills and explore their creativity. Not every aspect of Penn Avenue’s turnaround worked as planned, however: the hope that a revitalized Avenue would close the seam between two racially and economically distinct neighborhoods was not fully realized.

1 Most Wanted Fine Art, “About MWFA,” MOST WANTED FINE ART, accessed August 4, 2017, about-mwfa/.

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Mural by Therman Statom. Photo by Metris Arts Consulting

History and Context The commercial strip along Penn Avenue witnessed a steady decline in the 1970s and 1980s, bottoming out in the mid-1990s with commercial property vacancy rates at 45 percent of total square footage and 50 unoccupied storefronts along an eight-block stretch.2 During this era, the two neighborhoods bordering Penn Avenue diverged. In Friendship, lower-income but highly educated whites bent on buying and renovating homes moved in. Across the Avenue, Garfield, largely low-income and African-American, continued to lose population.

Poster in a Penn Avenue storefront window. Photo by Metris Arts Consulting

By the late 1990s, newly formed Friendship Development Associates (FDA) was seeking fresh approaches to business development and revitalization along the commercial corridor with the hope that a well-function-

Together with the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation

ing strip would serve the neighborhoods better and help

(BGC), a nonprofit community developer of affordable

“zipper the seam” between the two communities. FDA’s

housing and commercial properties in the area, the FDA

leadership, including placemaking-minded design pro-

created the Penn Avenue Arts Initiative (PAAI) in 1998,

fessionals, saw an opportunity for artists in the changing

backed by a grant from the McCune Foundation. PAAI

landscape. Across town in Pittsburgh’s Southside neigh-

hired a full-time artist-organizer, Jeffrey Dorsey, whose

borhood, artists had been a main driver of revitalization

credentials included volunteer work leading small arts

throughout the 1980s. They brought high tolerance for

festivals and shows that created some of the buzz about

risk, a willingness to invest sweat equity, and marketable

the Avenue within the arts community. This hiring

skills to open or staff new stores and services. As rents

proved crucial, as Dorsey went on to broker property

rose in Southside, artists had moved to other neighbor-

sales and corresponding public subsidy packages, pro-

hoods, including Penn Avenue. A mid-1990s survey by

vide technical assistance to developer-owners, market

Artists & Cities—a Pittsburgh nonprofit development

the corridor, facilitate design and planning activities,

company—found that fully one out of ten artists in Pitts-

and raise funds.4

burgh already resided in the three zip codes surrounding the Avenue.3 2 Amanda Johnson Ashley, “Creating Capacity: Strategic Approaches to Managing Arts, Culture, and Entertainment Districts,” National Cultural Districts Exchange (Americans for the Arts, 2014). 3 Matthew Galluzzo, Penn Avenue: An Arts-Based Community Development Intervention, ed. Akwugo Emejulu, Community Development in the Steel City: Democracy, Justice and Power in Pittsburgh (Edinburgh: Community Development Journal Ltd., 2012).

To complement property renovation work, Dorsey coordinated six summer festivals and hosted more than 100 monthly events called Unblurred: First Fridays on Penn, beginning with a semi-annual model in 1998. Unblurred profiled shows and events at local organizations and businesses and advertised buildings available for 4 Ibid.

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purchase and renovation on the Avenue.5 “[Unblurred] was a strategy—a marketing strategy. What’s the Arts Initiative? A marketing strategy that came with a tool box, came with buy-in, to share ideas on how to renovate and a loan and grant fund to help implement those renovations and community art projects,” Dorsey says.6 His early colleague, Matt Galluzzo, reports that “the marketing piece proved to be particularly successful. Unblurred: First Fridays was a cat-herding exercise—getting artists to keep similar hours, update information on shows” and special events, all of which went into printed placards placed around town.7 The PAAI ran as a going concern until 2013, when the FDA was put in mothballs and responsibility for the strip’s continuing revitalization fell entirely to BGC.

Commonplace @ Voluto, a coffee shop across the street from the Pittsburgh Glass Center, displays art by local artists. Photo by Metris Arts Consulting

Developed with consultant support and extensive community input, a new strategic plan guides BGC’s work on the corridor today. BGC now seeks to balance continuing marketing to artists with efforts to attract community-serving non-arts businesses.8 Arts district marketing continues under a loose collection of volunteers managed by the Glass Center.

Physical Revitalization and Development Over its life, the PAAI recorded enviable success in putting vacant properties into productive use. One-fifth of all the spaces on the Avenue were converted into facilities for artists, arts organizations, and related businesses,9 and more than 40 artists, arts organizations, and arts businesses now have

5 Matthew Galluzzo, personal interview, interview by Chris Walker, May 17, 2017. 6 Jeffrey Dorsey, personal interview, interview by Rachel Engh, May 15, 2017. 7 Galluzzo, personal interview. 8 Johnson Ashley, “Creating Capacity: Strategic Approaches to Managing Arts, Culture, and Entertainment Districts.” 9 Galluzzo, personal interview.

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Glass Lofts Condominiums and Primanti Bros. Photo by Metris Arts Consulting

affordable and/or long-term leases.10 Between 2001

Dorsey worked with FDA, BGC, and the Pittsburgh De-

and 2012, 66 new spaces hosting 10 organizations,

sign Center to create packages of renovation loans, down

25 businesses (arts and non-arts), and 414 individual

payment money, façade grants, and design assistance for

artists opened on the Avenue.11 Vacancy rates along

artist-investors, each customized for those seeking to

the strip dropped from 45 percent of all square footage

buy one of the 16 buildings. Between 2001 and 2012, the

to 18 percent; vacant storefronts declined from 53

PAAI’s Artist Loan and Grant fund awarded $96,500 in

percent to 28 percent.12

loans ranging from 1 to 5 percent interest to these and other buyers and 23 façade matching grants totaling


$137,000, matched by sweat equity, cash equity, or public


money. To help realize the goal of making Penn Avenue a vehicle to connect the neighboring communities, as

The FDA-BGC partnership started with a fundamental

artists moved in they became eligible for Heinz Endow-

development challenge: building types along the Avenue.

ments-funded micro-grants to support creative projects

Narrow, three-story buildings with retail space on the

with youth. In total the PAAI awarded $60,000 to nearly

first floor and upper-story residential units are function-

60 artists who served 600 young people.14

ally obsolete for modern retail. However, they are perfect for artists interested in first-floor retail and studio space


and upper-story living quarters—or a rental residential unit for buyers wanting an income stream to help pay

To create the customized design-subsidy packages, the

the mortgage.

PAAI utilized a favorable alignment of programs and resources from the city, the Urban Redevelopment

The City of Pittsburgh had acquired 16 buildings on

Authority, and local foundations. Galluzzo emphasizes

Penn Avenue through tax foreclosures, transferring

the considerable flexibility available to FDA, which was

ownership of eight each to FDA and BGC. The BGC had

not itself a Community Development Financial Institu-

tried to fill these and other spaces for some time, without

tion, “but found itself in the business of making loans.”15

much success, until the partners identified the critical

Compared to a typical commercial corridor program, the

ingredient—design-subsidy packages customized for

PAAI required a fairly large investment for its staff and

individual buyers. As FDA charter board member

other operating costs. Between 2003 and 2010, Neigh-

Stefani Danes put it: “One problem was that they [BGC]

borhood Allies (and its predecessor organization, the

were program-driven and not investor-driven. The right

Pittsburgh Partnership for Neighborhood Development,

strategy isn’t to promote the subsidies; it’s to tailor the

or PPND), a local affiliate of the Local Initiatives Support

subsidies to the demand.”13

Corporation (LISC), contributed some $715,000 to FDA and BGC (see Table 1). The McCune Foundation ultimately supplied the bulk of this cash, critical to ensuring stable program staffing.

10 Mary Navarro, “Penn Avenue Arts Initiative: The Next Phase. Research Findings and Recommendations,” September 2013. 11 Dorsey, personal interview. 12 Navarro, “Penn Avenue Arts Initiative: The Next Phase. Research Findings and Recommendations.” 13 Stefani Danes, personal interview, interview by Chris Walker, May 16, 2017.

14 Navarro, “Penn Avenue Arts Initiative: The Next Phase. Research Findings and Recommendations.” 15 Ibid.

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PAAI provided local businesses $815,000 in real estate

Penn Avenue Arts Initiative (PAAI)

project funding, of which LISC invested $375,000 in loans and grants, and PPND provided another $172,000 in early-stage predevelopment funding. More recent investments continue to add spaces for arts organizations and new low-income residents. For example, in

Amount ($) Neighborhood Allies Capacity Building Grants

2016 ACTION Housing developed the Penn Matilda

East End Growth Fund

Apartments on Penn Avenue, which houses 39 units of

Program Grants

affordable housing—many reserved for veterans—as well as new homes for two arts organizations, Assemble and

East End Growth Fund 0% interest, forgivable loans




Level Up Studios. Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit equity from LISC’s National Equity Fund covered

Total PAAI Support


$8.8 million of the total $11.5 million development cost (see Table 2).

Values rounded to the nearest thousand


Nonprofits and businesses on the Avenue today that are not involved in the arts span a range of activity. The


Eastside Neighborhood Employment Center offers

Penn Mathilda Apartments

workforce development, job readiness training, career counseling, and job placement. The Thomas Merton

Amount ($)

Center works for peace and social justice. Pho Minh

National Equity Fund

serves Vietnamese food. Family Dollar sells a range of

Low Income Housing Tax

discounted goods.

ACTION Housing

In addition, considerable Urban Redevelopment Au-

Sponsor Loan

thority funding flowed into multifamily housing devel-

Urban Redevelopment

opment, senior housing, and commercial mixed-use

Authority of Pittsburgh

projects on and around Penn Avenue.16 The nearby Children’s Hospital renovated and expanded its facilities, and the Children’s Home did the same. Penn Avenue also underwent reconstruction during this period, and although it was highly disruptive, it did not undermine the Avenue’s core economic vitality.17

16 Thomas Cummings, personal interview, interview by Chris Walker, May 16, 2017. 17 Anonymous interviewee, personal interview, May 16, 2017.

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Credit Equity



HOME Funds Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh


Urban Development Action Grant Total Development Cost

Values rounded to the nearest thousand


Mural on Penn Avenue by Tarish Pipkins. Photo by Metris Arts Consulting

The PAAI’s record of accomplishment is the more re-

This strategy was one of the ambitions of PAAI’s framers,

markable given the many titling and tax lien issues

who aspired to “re-regionalize” the street, drawing early

associated with distressed commercial properties on

support from foundation staff pleasantly surprised by

Penn Avenue, some of which were tied up in estates,

artists “speaking the language of community develop-

others owned by people who simply could not be

ment.”19 As measured by Unblurred participant surveys,

found. Unfortunately, these challenges have become

over time the PAAI saw increased numbers of visitors

more serious over time; the more easily developed

from outside the immediate area, an indicator of shifting

BGC properties have been renovated and sold, and

perceptions of the strip and a geographic broadening of

what remains requires more money and more effort.

its appeal.20

At the same time, some of the neophyte owners who have bought into the corridor as speculative investors

Penn Avenue’s viability as a commercial corridor also

have little expertise in development, and so they leave

improved with the blossoming of the adjacent Friend-

the buildings to languish, while other owners have sat

ship residential market and nascent revitalization of

on properties for some time, removing them from the

the nearby East Liberty neighborhood and commercial

active market.

district.21 A purchase-rehab program for homes in the community encouraged in-migration of artists (many of

Economic and Neighborhood Effects

them low-income people who were younger, or who had been moved out of other artists enclaves because they

On economic development grounds alone, the PAAI was

never got ownership), who became advocates for, and

an unambiguous success: The corridor registered growth

participants in, efforts to improve the corridor. And what

in spite of overall city decline, at least in part because

really made the corridor unique was that it was unlike

Penn Avenue moved from a fledgling arts enclave to a

any other main street in Pittsburgh. Instead of being the

recognized contributor to the regional cultural fabric.18

center of a homogeneous ethnic group, it was

18 Galluzzo, Penn Avenue: An Arts-Based Community Development Intervention.

19 Rob Stephany, personal interview, interview by Chris Walker, May 15, 2017. 20 Galluzzo, Penn Avenue: An Arts-Based Community Development Intervention. 21 Stephany, personal interview.

LISC | 7

the edge of several very different neighborhoods with a mix of 10 different ethnicities on the street—Vietnamese and Indian restaurants, for example. The success of PAAI was in using the arts to bring together all of those different groups, where everyone could call the place home.22 However, the Aldi grocery store on Penn Avenue appears to be one of the few new businesses that cater

The Irma Freeman Center for Imagination. Photo by Metris Arts Consulting

to the traditional African-American Garfield community, joining other businesses on the strip that offer services

Assemble hosts exhibitions and classes on topics related

customarily found in low-income neighborhoods:

to science, art, and technology. BOOM Concepts pro-

convenience outlets, barber shops and beauty salons,

vides gallery and performance space and a nurturing

and clothing stores.

community for music, spoken word, and visual artists committed to social justice. Individual artists’ studios


and gallery spaces line the Avenue.


These changes reflect the momentum created by artists’ demand for affordable space and the hard work and imag-

Penn Avenue has, over time, created an arts-and-

ination of Dorsey and his colleagues. As Unblurred called

cultural economic cluster, characterized by a concen-

attention to the Avenue, the PAAI stood ready to help

tration of arts and arts-related businesses and organiza-

artists renovate spaces and market their offerings. More-

tions that, per economic theory, benefit from the

over, several early anchor developments helped hike the

common infrastructure, shared retail market, a pool of

visibility of the strip. The Pittsburgh Glass Center—a

skilled workers, and nearby suppliers that geographic

nationally recognized glass-art facility—opened on Penn

proximity enables.24 Businesses along Penn Avenue

Avenue in 2001 after the FDA had purchased the building

report some of these features.

and held it until they could assemble financing,23 and the following year Dance Alloy, which draws patrons from

Some arts businesses report that new spaces and prox-

throughout the region, came to the Avenue as well.

imity to other arts groups have been important to their business. BOOM Concepts developed relationships with

Following these local anchors, other arts organizations

the nearby Most Wanted gallery and Assemble, for exam-

and businesses began operations on the Avenue or

ple. They have shared equipment, co-sponsored events,

relocated there: The Irma Freeman Center presents arts

and otherwise exchanged information about happenings

exhibitions and offers classes and workshops in African

on the strip.25 Assemble, without a space for a month,

drumming, sound production, and DIY maker projects.

22 Dorsey, personal interview. 23 Heather McElwee, personal interview, interview by Rachel Engh, May 15, 2017.

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24 Harold Wolman and Diana Hincapie, “Clusters and Cluster-Based Development Policy,” Economic Development Quarterly 29, no. 2 (2015): 135–49, doi:10.1177/0891242413517136. 25 Thomas Agnew, personal interview, interview by Chris Walker, May 16, 2017.

ran its summer camp through Mr. Roboto Project, a

able to earn more of our income and rely less on public

cooperatively-run show space and art gallery.

support.”29 This expansion contributes to demand for spaces on the Avenue: To house visiting artists, teaching

Says Nina Barbuto of Assemble:

assistants, summer intensive participants, and participants in its tech apprentice program, the center bought

We share things with our different neighbors Level Up

a four-bedroom condominium in an FDA development

and Silver Eye. We share tables, hammers, coffee, sugar.

and the “bride house” across the street, and it rents oth-

We do different events, write different grants, with

er units on the Avenue, as well. (Note that, although not

BOOM Concepts and Bunker Projects gallery…. I meet

necessarily a neighborhood impact, the Glass Center has

about once a month with Janera, the ED of The Kelly

attracted 40 glass artists to Pittsburgh.)

Strayhorn Theatre, and other folks, to tell each other what we’re doing, how we can co-promote. If they’re


doing an event, we’ll be there. Or how we can do summer


camps better together. I’ve personally taught at the Irma Freeman Center. The GA /GI Festival [a multidisci-

The growing arts-and-cultural cluster also seems to

plinary showcase of art, technology, ecology and per-

have attracted increasing numbers of nonprofits and

formance in multiple Penn Avenue venues] is whatever

educational organizations, restaurants, and other service

Christine Bethea puts together.26

related professions.30 “[Penn Avenue] became a cool place to be. When budding restaurants were looking for a

In the music scene, BOOM Concepts is becoming an

place that was going to be awesome, Penn Ave was one of

important incubator for local hip-hop artists. “Boom is a

them,” McElwee says.31

space where up-and-coming artists can shape their music and learn from each other and more established musi-

Barbuto says that the opening of the Aldi was a

cians,” says co-founder and operations manager Thomas

turning point:

Agnew.27 In another example, Heather McElwee, director of Pittsburgh Glass Center, says, “Tech Shop is located

[Grocery stores were] worried if [this neighborhood]

a mile down the street, a nationally-known place with a

could sustain a grocery store because it’s a lower-income

3D printer and waterjet cutter. It’s the only one in this

neighborhood…. But with social media, people are

region. I can’t help but think that they chose that location

getting the word out, and I’m pretty sure Aldi is doing

[because of ] some coloration with Penn Avenue and the

well. People are walking there, it helps sustain the

arts that are happening here.”28

neighborhood. People don’t need to drive [out of the neighborhood] or they can take the bus somewhere

McElwee says the Glass Center has found Penn

else... It has helped the neighborhood’s [access to]

Avenue to be a productive location, as well: “In 2002,

fresh food, inexpensive items.32

we had 500 students. Now there are over 7,500. The economics of the Glass Center [has changed]—we’re now 26 Nina Barbuto, personal interview, interview by Rachel Engh, May 16, 2017. 27 Agnew, personal interview. 28 McElwee, personal interview.

29 Ibid. 30 Samantha McDonough, “A Five-Year Strategic Plan 2014-2019 for the Penn Avenue Corridor, for the Penn Avenue Steering Committee,” n.d. 31 McElwee, personal interview. 32 Barbuto, personal interview.

LISC | 9

Taken together, the changes to the corridor and explicit strategies for public safety have driven down crime— a clear benefit to the community. “BGC did some good work on this: a focus on problem properties, work with the DA’s office to target known dealers, and so on. Increased activity and eyes on the street turned out to be a big effect on crime,” Galluzzo says.33 McElwee says: “In 2001, people used to call and ask, ‘Is it safe to park here, safe to come here at night?’ It’s so interesting to us the change that has happened over the last 15 years for the better. Nobody doesn’t know where we are, people know about Penn Ave, no one asks if it’s safe.”34 CREATING ARTIST EQUITY

The interest in PAAI buildings and subsidies was fueled in part by out-migration of artists from the increasingly pricey Southside. As has been the case elsewhere, own-

BOOM Concepts. Photo by Metris Arts Consulting

ership of their own spaces continues to be the best levee for artists and business owners against a rising tide of escalating rents. The BGC continues to own commercial properties on the street and provides discounted rents to both older and newer tenants. Determined not to meet the same fate as Southside, the PAAI also pursued an artists’ equity strategy, whereby artists could purchase properties and thereby benefit from escalation of their value and be protected from rising rents. “That model of selling to artists so that artists can come up with the community is what made a huge difference here. It’s not like you sell to whoever and then the artists can’t afford it anymore as it’s growing. Instead, they’re gaining more equity; it helps enhancing their careers. It’s a wonderful vision that made this place so unique. Artists will remain here because they bought into it,”35 says ceramic artist Laura Jean McLaughlin. 33 Galluzzo, personal interview. 34 McElwee, personal interview. 35 Laura Jean McLaughlin, personal interview, interview by Rachel Engh, May 15, 2017. Pittsburgh Glass Center. Photo by Metris Arts Consulting

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At the same time, some artists have begun to cash out

The new strategic plan for the Avenue ruefully recogniz-

as prices rise.

es that “business and cultural events should reflect the

Social Impacts

broad range of cultural interests and needs of the people who live here [to] become the ‘zipper’ we had been imagined to be so long ago.”40

The early zipper theory held that increased activity on the Avenue could help bridge two very dissimilar neigh-

The benefits from growth, especially for arts businesses,

borhoods by fostering inter-community ties,36 but our

did not flow proportionately to African-American artists,

interviews turned up a general disappointment with the

a judgment universally acknowledged by those we spoke

outcome. On the one hand, crime on the Avenue went

with. In part, this stemmed from an early misconception

down and Garfield youth participation, however episod-

of how to best advance equity. The Heinz Endowments

ic, did increase. Some arts organizations on the Avenue

supported a small grants program intended to help

cater to members of the community or share its racial

artists reach into the Garfield neighborhood, but equity

makeup. The community’s identity can be read from the

strategies did not extend more deeply into

physical surroundings: A memorial to a community man

the core of the program itself to help artists acquire

now departed occupies a prominent wall. There are mu-

space and build financial assets. Early program staff

rals of an African-American bride ascending a staircase

admit as much.

and of the streetcar line that once ran up the Avenue. A poem on the side of a restaurant calls on black and

Recognizing these gaps in its strategy, the Heinz Endow-

white people to “unremember your learnings” and move

ments has in later years directly supported

forward together.37

securing of spaces by African-American artists, such as BOOM Concepts. Unfortunately, with the real estate

But in part due to the relative dearth of new black-owned

market on Penn Avenue having already shifted due to its

arts businesses, the community’s claim to the corridor

success, these late-arriving artists can no longer benefit

appears to have eroded.

from the ownership strategy for arts-based businesses pursued early on.

“We didn’t have a good metric for what would happen. We wanted to see the edge of Friendship as a stabilizer


for Garfield, perhaps by pulling the market across


Penn Avenue to get the appraisals up in Garfield,” Galluzzo says of the early days.38 “There was the dream of a

To the question of whether Penn Avenue as a commer-

zipper, but it turned into a barrier. Social and economic

cial corridor helps African Americans, there seems to be

change came for the hipster class, but the early emphasis

a difference of opinion on whether the Avenue serves the

on youth programming faded with the erosion of

Garfield neighborhood or not.41 The PAAI’s early leaders

financial support.”39

and their supporters conceived of social equity primarily

36 Galluzzo, Penn Avenue: An Arts-Based Community Development Intervention. 37 Direct observation. 38 Galluzzo, personal interview. 39 Anonymous interviewee, personal interview, May 17, 2017.

40 McDonough, “A Five-Year Strategic Plan 2014-2019 for the Penn Avenue Corridor, for the Penn Avenue Steering Committee.” 41 Navarro, “Penn Avenue Arts Initiative: The Next Phase. Research Findings and Recommendations.”

LISC | 11

in terms of youth participation. First Fridays did prove to be a diverse experience. Neighborhood youth, for instance, came to the Most Wanted shows.42 The BGC recently added a night market which draws a more diverse crowd than just the white hipsters. Jason Sauer of Most Wanted hired youth from the neighborhood, including adjudicated ones, to work on community projects, supported by PAAI. “This was the exciting part about what we were doing,” says Galluzzo.43 Mary Navarro, local consultant, points out that positive developments like these, however, are not consistent or

Pittsburgh Glass Center glassblowing studio. Photo by Pittsburgh Glass Center

deeply woven into the plans for Penn Avenue’s development: “Activities were opportunistic and sporadic and dependent on funding streams that were not always

Stephany adds that Heinz has learned from the experi-

large enough or consistent enough for this to be consid-

ence and adjusted course accordingly. “Over the years,

ered an integrated program.”44 The micro-grants sup-

we’ve gotten a lot smarter. We didn’t understand then

ported by Heinz Endowments benefitted youth and the

the power of neighborhood [African-American] artists.

artists, for instance, but they weren’t as strategic as they

When the Endowments recruited more diverse staff who

needed to be in order to build long-term buy-in.45

had a stronger grasp of the community, it changed our understanding and our relationships. As a result we do

According to Heinz Endowments’ Rob Stephany:

much more work now within community-based cultural groups and with social justice artists,” he says.47

We took a knife to a gunfight. There are “artists,” “teachers,” and “teaching artists,” and they’re not the


same. We needed teaching artists, but we didn’t always


have that. The program called for youth outreach and cultural competency, but the RFPs and outreach to

Nevertheless, a range of artists-educators now occupy

artists didn’t specify that. The artists who did try had

spaces on the corridor, and many of the arts organiza-

cultural competency in spades; however, teaching

tions have a youth focus, including the Irma Freeman

children was a skill many had not mastered. It’s only

Center, Assemble, the Pittsburgh Glass Center, and

a small group of artists that can do teaching well,

Dance Alloy. On Penn Avenue, the arts community ap-

although there were “moments of brilliance.”46

pears to generally accept that social engagement should be part of what individual artists and arts organizations do, and the ties between arts organizations and Garfield

42 Anonymous interviewee, personal interview, May 17, 2017. 43 Galluzzo,personal interview. 44 Navarro, “Penn Avenue Arts Initiative: The Next Phase. Research Findings and Recommendations.” 45 Anonymous interviewee, personal interview, May 15, 2017. 46 Stephany, personal interview.

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may be strengthening.

47 Ibid.

Heather McElwee reports that the Pittsburgh Glass

more systems to help artists understand how to make

Center’s efforts to reach into Garfield led it to develop

art a career. “[A]rtists need to learn how to take advan-

collaborations through its micro-granting process, like

tage of that, a mentoring that I am often called on to

one forged with Brothers and Sisters Emerging, which

provide. How do you get over rejection and learn from

wanted to expand beyond its sports program by sending

the process?”51

students for after-school classes.48 Thomas Agnew of BOOM Concepts observes that “BOOM is important to

The work on Penn Avenue also does not have systems to

Garfield. It shows that people like themselves are repre-

put artists at the center of the revitalization work. For

sented. They are welcome, anybody can come in. They

example, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, although

see us, so they know they can achieve.”49

important in the provision of subsidies to affordable space development, has limited ability to influence arts

McLaughlin reports that for her ceramics business,

and cultural uses in the properties it supports. “We can

“more recently, I’ve had a lot more African-American

generally tell people what they can’t do with our subsi-

people coming into the First Fridays, feeling comfortable

dies in the buildings they develop, but we can’t tell them

coming in.” Asked what changed, she says: “Over time,

what they should do,” says the URA’s Tom Cummings.52

maybe, curiosity. A lot of the newer venues—BOOM Concepts—they’re bringing awareness. Assemble has

All in all, the revitalization of Penn Avenue yields

always been welcoming to the community. Over time,

important lessons for community developers in

people are feeling comfortable coming to the events.”50

Pittsburgh and elsewhere. Creative hard work, flexible

Systemic Effects

financing, access to property, good marketing, and some favorable tailwinds, like artists needing affordable space and a nearby neighborhood on the rise, produced a dra-

The community development industry in Pittsburgh

matic economic transformation.

takes some justifiable pride in the success of the Penn Avenue commercial strip over the last 15 years.

A concentration of socially minded artists and arts orga-

Penn Avenue does not “read” as a dramatic and total

nizations, deliberately supported by local foundations

transformation, but as an eclectic mix of building

and community organizations, created opportunities for

types and uses that reflect an incremental, organic,

local youth to learn skills and express themselves artisti-

community-scale process.

cally. Explicit philanthropic support for minority artists, although belated, enabled those artists to gain a foothold

At the same time, whether due in part to Penn Avenue

on the Avenue. A new and perhaps harder challenge now

Arts Initiative or not, Agnew believes that support is

confronts the Penn Avenue community: Hold on to the

growing for individual artists locally as well: “Better

gains while also resisting pressures to gentrify. The same

access to public support, residencies, foundation money

creative hard work that made the new Avenue possible

flow to artists.” He adds, however, that there can be

will be needed to keep it that way.

48 McElwee, personal interview. 49 Agnew, personal interview. 50 McLaughlin, personal interview.

51 Agnew, personal interview. 52 Cummings, personal interview.

LISC | 13

Interviews Thomas Agnew, BOOM Concepts Nina Barbuto, Assemble Thomas Cummings, The Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh Stefani Danes, Friendship Development Associates Jeffrey Dorsey, Union Project David Ennis, Affirmative Investments, Inc. Dr. Amber Epps, Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation Matthew Galluzzo, The Lawrenceville Corporation Justin Laing, Hillombo LLC Heather McElwee, Pittsburgh Glass Center Laura Jean McLaughlin, Independent Artist Michele Morris, Friendship Development Associates Nicolette Pawlowski, Los Sabrosos Dance Company Laurel Randi, The McCune Foundation

Decorative tree grate on Penn Avenue. Photo by Metris Arts Consulting

Janet Sarbaugh, The Heinz Endowments Jason Sauer, Pittsburgh’s Most Wanted Fine Art Gallery Skip Schwab, East Liberty Development, Inc. Rob Stephany, The Heinz Endowments Jason Vrabel,

Door with map of Penn Avenue. Photo by Metris Arts Consulting

14 | FAL L 2017

With residents and partners, LISC forges resilient and inclusive communities of opportunity across America—great places to live, work, visit, do business and raise families. Since 1980, LISC has invested $17.3 billion to build or rehab 366,000 affordable homes and apartments and develop 61 million square feet of retail, community and educational space. Launched in 2009, Metris Arts Consulting believes in the power of culture to enrich people’s lives and help communities thrive. We believe those benefits should be broadly shared and inclusively developed. Metris seeks to provide high caliber planning, research, and evaluation services to reveal arts’ impacts and help communities equitably improve cultural vitality. To accelerate change, we seek to share knowledge and amplify the voices of those closest to the work.

Cover: Pittsburgh Glass Center. Photo by Metris Arts Consulting Edited by Carl Vogel Design: Sarah Rainwater Design © LISC 2017

LISC | 15

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